Unfortunately, a sad fact is that over 90% of euthanasia of healthy animals is due to behavior problems that are really normal dog behaviors that are simply unacceptable in our human world. Shelters and Rescues are overburdened with this sad statistic and Awesome Paws is determined to help minimize this problem by offering these educational services. Most pet owners do not understand how to teach their pets how to live peacefully in our world and do not know how to read canine body language in order to avoid problems in the first place. Most owners are also inconsistent with their training programs and think that just because their dog will sit on cue in the house when there are no distractions, the dog knows sit everywhere. This is true then for ALL of the cues they think they have taught…and can be seriously wrong, especially in an emergency like when a pet darts through the front door towards a busy street. Whether you would rather take classes, have private lessons, enroll your dog in a boarding school program, etc, be on the lookout for trainers who promise instant results. This is simply not true in ANY learning environment – even human schools! Training your pet takes time, patience, consistency, trust, and understanding. You should find a trainer who can keep things fun and rewarding for both you and your pet and can communicate effectively with you and your canine friend. Contrary to popular belief, your dog does NOT need a collar to learn…it is merely the traditional way for most trainers. We at Awesome Paws like to teach “naked” obedience. Collars and leash-laws apply to all public situations; however, it is rare that you will have a leash or collar on in an emergency. Teaching your dog to respond in ALL situations under as many distractions as possible should be the ultimate goal for any pet owner. Owners should find a trainer that motivates them and keeps them smiling while they learn how to strengthen their bond with their pet. Trainers should be creative and ready to modify their approaches in training as well.
Does this mean you must find a “certified” dog trainer? We’ll be quite honest when answering this question: we do not believe so. There are a lot of very good trainers out there that can help you establish a much better training bond with your beloved companion, just like there are also a lot of certified dog trainers that have destroyed bonds or escalated bad behaviors. We recommend doing your research before you decide.
Our founder, Julie Westphal, is NOT certified as a dog trainer at this time. She is a Certified Veterinary Technician (licensed in the state of Wisconsin) and continues her training in the lifelong love of animal behavior by consulting with clients, holding group classes at an AKC member kennel club, competing with her own dogs in dog sport trials and continuing her own education within the veterinary medical and behavioral fields. She is referred to by eleven veterinarians, four animal hospitals, several Rescue organizations, and has been holding seminars and educating the public at many local events for many years.
We believe that in order to consider yourself a “professional dog trainer” you really need to be able to practice what you preach, be able to repeat the success with multiple dogs, keep current on the latest behavioral research and theory, attend continuing educational events...and prove it with your own dogs, whether in competition or just by having doggy ambassadors that you can showcase in any environment, at any time, under any distraction. Do not settle for just anyone – you may end up regretting it or cause an already bad behavior to escalate. You have to be the one comfortable with their methods and be able to understand and replicate the exercises so that your dog can learn from you.
Dogs only learn what we teach them. Reward the Good Behaviors, Ignore the bad ones (or get an experienced professional to help with any Aggression or Anxiety issues) and you will have a dog that tries to keep offering good behavior. We too often forget to reward our dogs for calm behavior (we just “expect” it), and then get angry when they are wound up and yell (or worse!) at them…only reinforcing that wound up behavior gets attention and calm does not! What a goofy world of opposites we are projecting! Without going into the boring details of theory (positive, negative, reinforcement, punishment, etc), just remember: Whatever gets attention…which your dog craves as a family member…will be continued…whether it is “positive” or “negative” to you. Attention IS attention. We, being human, EXPECT our dogs to understand us and the reality is: they don’t. Pets CAN think. They CAN learn. But they CANNOT think as COMPLEXLY as we expect them to. They only LEARN what gets them what they think is rewarding…whether attention, treats, toys, freedom, going potty, for a car ride, whatever! So REWARD your pet for EVERYTHING they do RIGHT (and ignore what they do wrong by turning your back and walking away!)…and you’ll already have a better dog.
So, instead of thinking of training as “correcting the bad behavior”, think of it as teaching your pet English” – their SECOND language! Just as we can learn a second language, so can our pets. At the end of the day, a dog will be a dog and we will be human. Period. We will NEVER be dogs – therefore never be a true “pack” – and our dogs will never be human, as much as we want them to be. Instead, let’s learn a little “Dog” so that we can more effectively teach them “Human” (in whatever language we choose)…and this, just like with us, will take some time, consistency, exposure, generalizations, and reinforcement…sometimes maybe even a few “corrections” but tonal change and using “no” are all that should be required, therefore allowing you to have a CONVERSATION with your dog, versus a mixed martial arts battle, as some trainers would have you try. We can develop a solid, healthy, lifelong relationship…based on trust, clear communication and understanding.
In addition, reinforcement of good behaviors is MUCH LESS work than correcting bad behaviors. There is only one correct behavior that we are looking for when we want to Yes! And pay – the behavior we WANT. We ignore the rest or prevent the others. When we are always looking to “correct” a behavior...there are usually hundreds of other “bad” options the dog can then perform – which leads to frustration (of both parties), fear (of pain), or other anxiety-producing behaviors. Too many “trainers” set dogs up for failure and destroy bonds by using force, collars, corrections, or even “stimulation” methods. We need to call it what it is: aversive-based training. They are teaching your dog to avoid pain, fear, and producing anxiety being around you. instead of actually just teaching your dog what to do instead. How would you prefer to learn?
I recommend students wanting to use correctional-based methods to put the collars (choke, pinch, electronic, etc) on THEIR necks and have someone ELSE control the leash or remote. (This has YET to happen!) The person controlling them then decides on a behavior they want and doesn't tell the student – something like walking nice on leash with attention to the trainer for 15 sidewalk squares. Now, the student has to try and figure this behavior out...but gets corrected (jerked, shocked, pinched, etc) for every WRONG behavior (stopping, moving ahead, lagging, not looking at the trainer, sitting, wanting to investigate the $100 bill sitting on the sidelines, etc). The behavior we want maybe starts to happen (walking nice with attention) but there is probably a wariness in the person's eyes, fear of getting hurt, not understanding exactly what is wanted...and lack of trust, feeling of resentment. There were probably many corrections...and the behavior was still not understood. Take off the collar and start again ...see what happens next.
Keep in mind: the random trainer is you...and the student is the dog. If you are not efficient of delivering a treat to your dog with the correct timing (in learning, timing is everything!) then are you really going to deliver a correction on time? This happens ALL the time: A dog is running towards a tree, an owner calls, the dog stops and looks up at his name...and gets shocked. Then he looks away and gets shocked again. Then looks up again and get praised, without ever hearing his name. What did we teach the dog? You get shocked if you look up when you hear your name, shocked when you look away, and not shocked when you look up again, without ever hearing your name. Confusing, isn't it?
Dogs are NOT as complex thinkers as we are and do NOT understand the human cues until we teach them.
We want to help your dog be able to trust you. Through trust and clear communication, comes understanding. When your dog understands what you WANT...instead of having to always guess and then get corrected for the wrong guess...there can be harmony. We have a simple 4-step program for ANY behavior you want to teach...in the mean-time, before your session, we have a challenge for you:
The Awesome Paws Challenge:
- Just humor us and try this for 3 days…but BE CONSISTENT! If you’re not trying, then of course it won’t work! If your pet does something you don’t like (say, jumping up), don’t make eye contact, stand up straight and walk away. Don’t acknowledge your pet for at least 30 seconds, so keep moving, whatever you need to do to give NO attention. Then, when your pet offers an alternative good behavior (like sitting down or standing on all four paws), cue the behavior (Sit, Off, etc) and then praise them excitedly verbally as well as physically, give them a cookie, throw the ball, whatever. As soon as they go into an unacceptable behavior, ignore them again. Don’t talk to them (except when praising) and you’ll soon see that our words mean nothing to our pets (until we teach them what the words are, but that’s later in what we call “obedience”) but our body posture, and OUR BEHAVIOR cues them much more. Do you accept our challenge?
- Earlier we asked, “Do you want to know the secret to dog training?”
- The answer is: YOU!
- The answer is: YOU!
As always...Happy Training!